4. Under sail and under arms

Volume 4  ranges far beyond the home, village and market town environment of the other volumes. It is unusual to read in a woman’s diary allusions to such subjects as building a navigation (a canalised river), and to trade on the rivers and at sea.

Oct. 2020: The volume was shortlisted under History and Tradition for the East Anglian Book Awards 2020.

This volume also enters the world of politics. Although women did not have the vote, Mary Hardy shows her absorption in the electoral process as a bystander. The unenfranchised, including apprentices, women and children, would join the cheering crowds.

Their show of approbation was valued by elected representatives as helping to confer validity on the result in the days before universal suffrage.

As one reviewer of her published Diary, Professor G.M. Ditchfield, puts it: Mary Hardy and her husband “exerted influence in the commercial world and were part of the political nation”.

The 10 chapters, under three main headings

A black-sailed trader

The Norfolk trading wherry Albion under sail. The Hardys built a wherry in 1776 to carry malt downriver and coal back up

I.  Wide horizons

  • The roads
  • The new navigation
  • Riverside staithes
  • Keels and wherries
  • The sea

II.  Little time for play

  • Leisure hours indoors
  • Outdoor recreations

III.  Human conflict

  • Politics
  • Civilians at war
  • Deliverance

Epilogue – The enduring record

There is also a glossary of terms and measures. As with each of the other volumes there is a chronology of the Hardys’ lives.

River trade—and a boisterous boat launch

The Hardys at first relied on others’ sailing vessels, both the gaff-rigged wherry and the Norfolk square-rigged keel, to carry their freight on the rivers of the Norfolk Broads. These boats were not seagoing.

In March 1776 William Hardy resolved to have a wherry of his own. Named William and Mary, this vessel carrying less than 16 tons was launched at Coltishall in August that year, with a small celebration arranged.

The festivities went on past midnight and got out of hand:

“August 22, 1776  ·  A very fine day . . . Launched the new wherry this afternoon, named her the William and Mary. Mr and Mrs Dancer and Miss Gooch dined here and drank tea on board the wherry. Mr and Mrs Smith [from the school], Mr Fiddy and daughter, Mr Ansell and Mr Easto drank tea with us. The gentlemen stayed till past 12 o’clock and were very drunk.”

The next day William Hardy was “very ill” (the diarist’s term for a hangover) and did no work. His wife had to pay for the glasses that were “broke the last night”.


The black sail of the wherry Albion, built in 1898, is shown seemingly moving across fields and reedbeds on the banner for this page. The view from the helm is at the top of the “World” main page. There, Albion is seen sailing past the ruined gatehouse of St Benet’s Abbey, just as William and Mary used to do when carrying hops, rum, sand, manure, bricks, malt, barley, wheat, flour and coal.

The small wherry even brought up an oven which had been sent by sea to Great Yarmouth from Yorkshire for Mary Hardy’s kitchen.


Whole hops, ready for use in brewing at Woodforde’s. The Hardys had their Kentish hops brought round by sea to the Norfolk ports and thence upriver by keel and wherry to Coltishall or overland by cart to Letheringsett

Mary Hardy’s record of these sailings enables us to compile a wherry log, the only one surviving from the eighteenth century.

New road transport opportunities

Road transport improved for both long- and short-distance travel. Far more journeys were undertaken in a light one-horse gig by the end of the diary period than had been the case at the start, greatly opening up opportunities for women to get about.

Mary Hardy was no horsewoman, and she only very rarely refers to women on horseback.

Clubs, the playhouse and fairs

The two chapters on leisure form a contrast with this chronicle of the long-hours culture of the diarist’s circle.

The Devil on Two Sticks

With her ready sympathy for itinerants Mary Hardy was entranced by the travelling players. Like her family, she attended performances in Norwich and at Holt whenever she could. The Devil on Two Sticks, based on the comic novel by Le Sage, was a popular show, as also The School for Scandal and The Rivals which established themselves in the provinces very shortly after their opening nights in the capital  [engraving from The Devil on Two Sticks (London, 1780)]

Travelling players with extraordinarily wide repertoires would lay on performances in barns. In the diarist’s time only a few towns had purpose-built theatres. Freemasonry, music clubs, book clubs, purse clubs, tenpins, academic lectures, puppet shows: all were on offer at the village public house.

The different classes mixed at fairs. It is very evident from Mary Hardy’s diary that her family, the maids and the workforce cherished local fairs and especially home fairs as holiday breaks and family reunions.

She and her fellow diarist Henry Raven tell us of 25 fairs in Norfolk including the great stock fairs at St Faiths and Hempton Green. A further fifty appear in the printed lists, although these publications are not always consistent.

Crouse and Stevenson's list of Norfolk fairs 1790

This published list of Norfolk fairs in 1790 is not complete, as we learn from Mary Hardy and Henry Raven [Crouse and Stevenson’s Norwich and Norfolk Memorandum Book 1790]

The backdrop to the whole of Mary Hardy’s story is war. Invasion by the French was a real fear, the Hardys living very near the coast.

The Militia ballot, service in the Volunteers and the mobilisation of the civilian population in the eastern counties feature in this last of the Mary Hardy volumes.

The best plan to remove the inhabitants to a place of safety in case of invasion  (Mary Hardy, 1803)

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Pre-publication article

Rowan Mantell highlights some intriguing features of Mary Hardy’s record:  250-year-old diary